Social Media and Journalism – long version


This is the long – hardly edited – version of —— it has not been checked for grammar, spelling and working links -it’s really just my notes. There is a checked short version.

A strategic overview of new media in journalism, the relevance of digital skills and why it’s important to embrace new technology

Presentation to NCTJ AGM Belfast 30 November 2011

Here’s the short version.


Holly Came From Miami, Fla
Hitch hiked Her Way Across The USA.
Plucked Her Eyebrows On The Way
Shaved Her Legs And Then He Was She – She Said:

Hey Babe, Take A Walk On The Wild Side,
Said Hey Honey, Take A Walk On The Wild Side.

Holly, Candy, Little Joe, Sugar Plum Fairy, Jackie and the coloured girls who go …

Characters, back stories, a vivid description of a world most of us had no experience of.

There’s a story line and a call to action.

Take a walk on the wild side.

When I was young I had a firm view of what a journalist was. When I started out in radio in the late 70’s a journalist reported the news and – sometimes more importantly – was a member of the NUJ.

Then in the early ‘80s, a time when Radio 1 had magazine programmes about music on Saturday afternoons I heard someone describe Lou Reed as a journalist. A light bulb above my head went ‘Bang’.


Lou Reed had the eye for a story, the skills and talent to tell it well. He had a means of distribution and – with record producer and band – a sort of editor and editorial board.

Of course he was a journalist. He was reporting the world as he saw it and telling us all about it.

Some journalists hate – and probably fear – social media. Others think it’s pretty useful – and others who get caught up in the shiny new toys that deliver social media content.


I’ve been asked to talk about the digital skills = Let’s be careful with how we use that word ‘digital’.

Those who have experienced inky fingers or fingers cut by sharp blades as we slashed tape were never told about ‘analogue’ skills. Let’s not start with digital skills – they tend to get in the way of Skills enabled or supported by digital technology.

Regardless of the tools – digital or analogue – the core skills of journalism are the same. The question is about how digital technology support or improve journalism.

I’m one of the people who think Social Media are pretty usefu. Because in journalism the first thing you do is LISTEN. Not write, speak or broadcast. First you listen. Before the output comes the input, the processing, the curation (the latest ‘in’ word), the compilation. Then comes the output.

As it is with journalism and social media. The key to a strategic success in social media is to listen.

Before the arrival of digital tools, the biggest challenge was distribution. Selling your story, or becoming employed by a newspaper or broadcaster. That has been turned on it head – the means of distribution are available to everyone. The challenge now is to be good enough for your voice to be heard in the noise. And – if listening is still a key skill – hearing the right voices in the noise. Who to follow – who to trust – who has something worth saying? How do you find them?

Section on Technology

The Post PC Era is dawning. Gartner predicts that sales of Smart Phones and Tablets will overtake the sales of PCs and Laptops this year.  But that is to put laptops and PCs in the same category. By their very nature Laptops can be fixed but are more likely to be mobile. Mobile Computing has already overtaken fixed home and office computing. The opportunities for mobile journalism are already with us. Delivering the story from the scene of the action as it happens rather than reporting post-fact is not the preserve of the TV or radio outside broadcast. With Twitter in particular but also Facebook and Live Blogging, a journalist can report the Meta-Story – reporting on the reporting of the story. A lot of journalists time is spent waiting. But that story – if told well in A TWITTER FEED OR A LIVE BLOG – can be as interesting as the main story.

­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­THE GUARDIAN OPENING UP

The Guardian have discovered some of their best-read stories are the live blogs that report events as they unfold,

Here’s what they say on the Inside the Guardian Blog

“You can now see a live account of plans in the form of the daily newslist kept by [Guardian] editors. It provides a glimpse into the scheduled announcements, events and speeches that make up the news day. You will also be able to view what our editors think about the stories by reading their updates on Twitter … We will include conversations we have about the day’s news, story ideas we get from our correspondents and the latest information on stories that we get during the day.

A Swedish regional newspaper called Norran has already been successfully using a blog and Twitter . The word – the most important word – in Social Media is ‘engagement’. And engagement – rather than publishing or broadcasting is a massive challenge to journalism – it is also a massive opportunity.

While in a recession it might not feel like it – but spending power is rising, The costs of personal and mobile computing continues to fall. In the USA you can buy a high spec smart phone for less that $100 – in fact, you can probably get one free with the right package. In the UK Europe and many other places a Blackberry is low or no cost. Broadband speeds are increasing – 4 G is on its way.

And in developing countries the mobile is ubiquitous.

In October 2011 The Economist reported  that HTC shipped more than 22 million phones in the first half of this year more than twice as many as the first half of 2010. Gartner estimate that 1 billion will be sold in 2015.

Chips continue to half in price each year. Storage costs are negligible.

So  – the means of distribution of ideas, comments and breaking news (and as the definition of news continues to change) becomes simpler and more wide spread, the opportunities for journalism or the curation of information supporting journalism also becomes simpler and more wide spread.

It also opens a challenge to journalism. Engagement – are bloggers journalists? Yes and so is everyone else. It’s just some are significantly better than others. Some are worth listening to and many many many more are not.

Lou Reid was worth listening to – a million garage bands at the time were not.

What of the tools themselves – Twitter Facebook and a multitude of others that are rarely mentioned.


Building a brand on Facebook?

Vadim Lavrusik has an agenda – he runs Facebook + Journalists on Facebook . But that’s OK – He was asked why journalists should build their “personal brand” on the platform. He wrote:

“… public-facing journalists have an easier time adapting to using Facebook in a professional way. So TV journalists and columnists, who are used to having their face out there and a more public presence, are better at adapting to it, whereas print journalists, for example, have hidden behind their bylines for years and aren’t used to having a public-facing presence.

However, the reality is that all journalists have to have a voice and an accessible presence online to set themselves apart from the rest of the noise. It’s not about “personal branding.” It’s about journalistic credibility. Anyone can publish nowadays, and so it’s even more important for journalists as experts to have a public voice that’s accessible to their audience on social platforms like Facebook. Everyone can publish, but that doesn’t mean everyone is a journalist. We need journalists to have a voice more than ever. 

Their audience and community is on the social platforms, whether the journalist chooses to be or not. And so they are either part of the conversation or not.

Now there’s a word we really need to think about. Forget audience – forget readership – think Community.

Felicia Day: Make Long Term Relationships, Not Booty Calls


There are already demands on the newspaper journalist go beyond the traditional skills.

New York Times run daily TimesCasts at 1.00pm and they are thinking about thinking about other scheduled programmes. Video has been part of the New York Times offering for several years .  Anne Derry — Editorial Director Video and Television  NY Times says “Our Goal is to real journalism with video.” The Wall Street Journal is training journalists to shoot video on iPhone and how to tell stories in video format and to send the video to the desk

Once newspaper journalist took notes in shorthand, typed the report and delivered it by hand or by post. The radio journalist recorded on tape, spliced to edit it. The TV journalist’s technology was so complicated and specialist a whole team of people were needed.

When I began to work in BBC Online, the challenge was to separate the content from the platform. Content needed to be ‘platform neutral’. The concept is less challenging now – but it was a major shift in thinking for someone who had spent so much time in radio.

Journalists need to be able to separate the story from the storytelling tools. And the wisdom to choose the right tools for the right context. Whether that be video, text, twitter or whatever next is round the corner.

The two questions to keep foremost in mind when a new technology comes along are: “How does it work?” and “How can I make it work for me?”

But don’t get too hung up on all that. Tell the story. Paint the picture.


 In their book The World in 2020 Jones and Caroline Dewing talk about Seamless Media. Tim Jones is Programme Director of  Future Agenda Caroline Dewing is Senior Communications Manager in Group External Affairs at Vodafone).

“Multiple media sources are instantly integrated at the point of consumption to provide us with immersive access to tailored, bite-sized content.”

They say the rapid rise of new platforms has fundamentally changed the way we use and interact with media. Given that the fundamental shift has come in less than 10 years, “as we look to 2020 many expect even greater changes as the acceleration of new technologies increases.”

We all switch between a range of media sources. By 2020 – they predict –  this will be the norm for many of us: Our PCs, mobiles and TVs will have merged and become integrated with a host of new devices that allow us to access a global library of information and data.” Jones and Dowling argue that your technology will understand you and fetch information that it understands that you want. If consumers become even more passive in their media consumption, what challenge does that present to journalists? Will we just have an echo chamber of media that supports out prejudices and petty obsessions? How can the dissenting or challenging voice be heard? Will media companies become curators rather than creators of content as the authors appear to argue?

Yet we have more time and tools to be creative. And many of us turn to the internet as a means to express that creativity. Even in 1996 there were basic internet tools – even for people who had limited technical skills. Does anyone remember Geocities and AngelFire for building our own websites?

For the first time in history, the amount of television being watched by a younger generation is decreasing rather than increasing annually. Because now young people spend more time on interactive media.

Open Twitter any Saturday and there are all the comments you need about the days sport – well usually football with a bit of rugby. Radio and TV programmes as well as inky newspapers select Twitter and Facebook comments to add to the editorial.

So what will be the impact when on internet enabled TVs we are watching news or a documentary and along with other viewers we add our ha’pth worth?

Maybe nothing. Much social media – from blogs to bulletin boards to Twitter are opinion. I really don’t care what most people think. But how will journalism deal with people adding information – facts not opinion – to the conversation. And how will journalism react (how does it now?) when challenged? Already journalists are aghast when they read the comments on their beautifully crafted, painstakingly researched stories.

Get used to it.

Clay  Shirky asserts that even the most inane forms of creation and sharing are preferable to the hundreds of billions of hours spent consuming television.

Some use that creativity to produce journalism. They are not formally trained, most don’t do it particularly well. But text and video and photos and music are used to describe the world around us, to ask questions and to challenge authority. Oh and there is opinion. Lots and lots of opinion, often poorly informed, often with a particular agenda, often transmitting noise rather than light. Like a lot of traditional media.

The coming challenge

There are some people who say that the internet will change journalism the same way that My Space has changed the role of the record companies’ A&R departments. Having come up through the ‘alternate’ music of the late 70s and the 80s I say that’s wishful thinking. Which has had more impact on the UK music industry – My Space or X-Factor – and on the sales of some newspapers, come to that? Myspace was owned by News Corp for 4 years and is now owned by Specific Media and Justin Timberlake. Who is Specific Media? It says on their website – “Specific Media is an innovative global interactive media company that enables advertisers to connect with consumers in meaningful, impactful and relevant ways.”

Yes, new threads of journalism will develop through new and social media. But the big players will still be there – and that is likely where the investment will come from.

Digital Natives

I take 1996 as the year that the home personal computer arrived. (Along with Windows 96, re reinvention of Apple and PC World) Children born that year are now considering their careers. Computers will play a part. For those entering journalism, internet will be important. But more important is how will a generation of people used to getting their news free at the point of delivery find ways of turning that into a salary or freelance fee?

And what of Social Media itself?

Social Media also makes a great scapegoat for journalists and politicians. Unquestioningly they blame social media for the ills of society.

You remember the riots in England? They started in Brixton. Moved to Southall, Toxteth, Nottingham and Manchester. There were also smaller pockets of unrest in Leeds, Leicester, Southampton, Halifax, Bedford, Gloucester, Wolverhampton, Coventry, Bristol, and … er Edinburgh.

This was not the riots of this summer. 30 years earlier in 1981 when these events occurred, there wasn’t even 24 hour TV. British Telecom did not – as Blackberry did – contact police to offer help investigating their system for the organisation of riots.

Blaming social media on social unrest is like blaming the brick that breaks the window.


If you don’t already know Kevin Anderson – ex BBC, ex Guardian – then get to know him – @Kevglobal on Twitter

Speaking about his time as Digital Research Editor in the Guardian he says: “I almost always started out from the point of view of the editorial problem we were trying to solve rather than the tool or platform. Sure, sometimes when a platform got a lot of traction, I would try it out to see how we could engage the audience using that platform, but even then, I looked at things from the point of view of how what they could do for our journalists and our audience. “


  • Does it make a journalists job faster and easier?
  • Does it help us make money or save money?
  • Does it help bring audiences to our journalism or our journalism to audiences?
  • Does it allow us to tell stories better, more easily or more engagingly?
  • Does it build audience loyalty and keep people engaged with our journalism longer?

Forrester Research use POST Methodology:” A Systematic Approach To Creating A Social Technology Strategy”

  • People. Review your target customer’s social behaviors and attitudes.
  • Objectives. Decide on your social technology goals.
  • Strategy. Determine how your objectives will change your relationship with customers.
  • Technology. Choose the appropriate technologies to deploy.

Strategy used to be the domain of senior executives in business. As we become our own publishers we all need to think about our Social media strategy.

What’s yours?

Download document (docx file).

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